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FTZs to propel regional growth - AFRICA

Free trade zones in China's central and western regions do not have a physical port, but they still have major potential to build up their free trade ports and thereby facilitate wider regional growth, government think tanks said on Tuesday.

Their comments came after the Ministry of Commerce's move to coordinate with the Shanghai municipal government and related administrations to plan the establishment of a free port within the China (Shanghai) Pilot Free Trade Zone was announced last week.

Bai Ming, a senior researcher at the Chinese Academy of International Trade and Economic Cooperation under the Ministry of Commerce, said there were small disparities among ports, industrial parks and zones in the past, as they were all trade frontiers to the world.

"China (has) now started to value more on the free trade port in optimizing resource," he said. "Based on foreign experience, free trade ports can be divided into normal ports and land ports, which means airport and land transportation hubs, by which we can eliminate the geographic restriction by building new free trade ports."

China so far has established 11 FTZs to accelerate the country's opening-up and boost the Belt and Road Initiative, including landlocked Shaanxi and Henan FTZs and those with coastal lines such as Zhejiang and Guangdong FTZs.

According to Bai, the free trade ports in Hong Kong and Singapore are two distinctive examples to study. Although the capacity and infrastructure in the Chinese mainland are likely at a similar level, the management, efficiency and international service have fallen behind, and further reform in services and administrative procedures is certainly needed.

Eager to diversify the country's earning ability, the central government released a plan earlier this year to further deepen the reform and opening-up of the Shanghai FTZ, which included building a free trade port area in the Yangshan bonded port area or the Shanghai Pudong International Airport bonded area.

Gu Xueming, president of Beijing-based CAITEC, said whether free trade ports will be set up individually is yet to be decided. Some pilot free trade zones, like those in Tianjin, Zhejiang, Fujian and Liaoning, already have their own bonded ports.